30 January 2008

The Candeau and Tran Tien Genealogy

I have decided to begin a project which I had toyed with for years.

I want to make posts about the history of my family which I would argue is a historian's delight.

I have chosen the maternal side of the family because it is aided by a wealth of material whose compilation was made possible by two astounding branches of people:

1. My late grandfather, Yves Candeau (1924 - 1996). Yves was a natural writer and a detailed-oriented researcher. At the death of his father, he became the guardian of the family archives. He left no stones unturned and worked assiduously on the reconstitution of our family records into a number of legible manuscripts. It is not a coincidence that he was a Virgo and was born in the Year of the Rat!
Yves' meticulous research -following in the footsteps of his own grandfather, Commandant Auguste Candeau- meant that before he died, he left an enviable set of documents which trace the Candeau family history from its Basque origins right up until our time.
Included in his historical account is the unusual yet charming story of his marriage to my grandmother, a Vietnamese. It was 1948. A time when the French were not seen well by Vietnamese people, let alone proud royalty. It is my favourite story and I have since obtained more details from my grandmother.

2. My grandmother's family in Vietnam is worth mention. Their written account of the Tran Tien family history is unique because during those times, in Annam (former name for Vietnam), tradition would more likely pass down orally among uneducated people. Therefore if it exists, it is simply because she was a descendant of mandarins from Chinese origins. Her father, also a mandarin (yes, he reportedly grew his fingernails to shocking lengths), was Chief Archivist of the Imperial Library at Hue. In Vietnam, as for China during those times, Mandarins were educated and it must be said, privileged, people. And they would have invested great care in compiling family records for future generations.
The story of the Tran Tien mandarins (in my family) begins in 17th century China. They were disillusioned Ming dynasty subjects who emigrated to Vietnam following the establishment of the Qing dynasty by the Manchus. Some of the family documents, reprised in French by Yves Candeau and narrating the Tran Tien lineage right up until the birth and childhood of my grandmother, are a treasure.

I can not fill my grandfather's shoes. For now, I will translate significant excerpts from both the Candeau genealogy and the Tran genealogy, into... English. That insipid language he understood all too well but like a good old fashion French could not resign himself to speak!
In addition, I will enrich those stories with material collected during interviews with my grandmother, Phuong Lan.

I have several motivations for embarking on this project:
1. I am after all a historian. I enjoy delving into the past. And so it will be my pleasure to post this.
2. My grandmother wants me to write about this. She is akin many older people who find delight in offering glimpses of their life with others. And so they should. In fact, we should listen more often.
3. It is a unique story which must be shared, as every person will understandeably assert when speaking of their own family background if, that is, they take pride in their background.
4. I want this story to be available to the public both as a curiosity and for education purposes.

Along the way (if you choose to come with me): love against all odds, far travels, too many sailors to name, a French naval explorer commanding an expedition to New Caledonia, a slave trador under the name of Jean-Baptiste Candeau, three recipients of the French legion of honor, mandarins of the court, foul murder and Vietnamese princes.


Didier said...
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Laura said...

Didier, this is fascinating.
Unfortunately, I was speaking about a branch of the Tran family rather than the ruling Tran dynasty. The documents I have cover the period from 1611 onwards.

Good luck anyway...

nhatmed said...


My name is Nhat Tran and I visited Vietnam in 2005 on a humanitarian project. While there, the chairman of the rehabilitation department of Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi took me to the "Tran Temple" in NamDinh Province. I guess this temple is considered a holy shrine by Tran descendants and that it is guarded by Tran descendants to this day. I don't know if this is true or not but one of the curators there said that during the Vietnam War, the United States made sure not to bomb the surrounding area near the temple because if they did, it would have REALLY upset the Tran descendants and it would have been disastrous for them politically. I took some pictures of the temple. If you are interested in looking at it, it is located at: http://www.internationalrehab.org/personalgallery/trantemple1.html

I enjoy reading your blog. I accidently stumbled on to it while Googling "tran family tree" during my down town at the hospital. My father was born in Hue. His first cousin married into the royal family some how. I know Trans are like Smiths, but who knows, we might be distant cousins. Anyways, take care and I look forward to reading your future blogs. Nhat.

Thi Vu said...

I read your post about Tran Tien Thanh and I was amazed by the fascinating details of his life that you have here. When I was a child, I used to live near the Cho Dinh area in Hue and have heard of many stories from the people there about things in the past. Hue has a rich history that is sadly being forgotten or ignored. I hope you will post more stories like this in your blog.

Laura said...

Thank you Thi Vu.
I enjoyed writing about Tran Tien Thanh, he was an amazing person.